Friday, March 30, 2001

State of Hawaii

Schools face
millions in cuts
to pay for public
worker raises

The BOE agrees to trim
up to 1 percent but
refuses to itemize

By Leila Fujimori

To pay for its share of public workers' pay raises, Hawaii's public school system is looking at as much as $10.68 million in annual budget cuts for the next two fiscal years, but the Board of Education yesterday refused to list what programs would suffer.

Instead, board members agreed to a lump-sum budget cut ranging between $5.2 million and $10.68 million a year for fiscal 2002 and fiscal 2003. The size of the cut would depend on how much the state would have to pay for raises for unionized state workers, including teachers who are negotiating a new contract and threatening to strike.

BOE members said they did not want to itemize deductions, as requested by the state, because they feared that providing a list of potential cuts will endanger those programs unnecessarily.

Gov. Ben Cayetano has asked all state departments to detail how they would cut their budgets in order to pay for pending public workers' pay raises.

"For the Department to be asked for a prioritization list to cut $5 million to $10.6 million is devastating," state Schools Superintendent Paul LeMahieu wrote to the board in a March 12 memo. The DOE budget is lean and, in many instances, deficient, he said.

A cut of $10.68 million is equal to about 1 percent of the department's roughly $1 billion annual budget.

LeMahieu said implementing cuts should be left to the BOE's discretion, and it would be premature and shortsighted to identify a list of programs to be cut.

In compliance with the governor's request, State Librarian Virginia Lowell submitted a list of potential cuts to the state Budget and Finance Department on March 23. The library system is looking at annual cuts of up to $4.3 million for the next two fiscal years.

At yesterday's board meeting, Lowell gave a list of reductions for 2002-03 that includes deferring the opening of the new Kapolei Public Library indefinitely, reducing funds for repairs and bookmobile operations, and freezing some vacant positions.

BOE member Donna Ikeda called submitting the list "extremely premature" and questioned why it was done.

"This is agreeing to cutting items we don't even know are going to be funded in the first place," said the former state senator. She said that "having been on the other side," she would cut items from the budget if she were to see such a list.

Other board members agreed with Ikeda.

Lowell agreed to write a letter to the Department of Budget and Finance saying the library's recommendation went out without BOE approval. The board recommended the state library follow its policy of a lump-sum cut, rather than an itemized list.

State of Hawaii

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